Friday, May 09, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Midnight (1939)

MIDNIGHT, a sophisticated romantic comedy set in '30s Paris, is simply a brilliantly funny film. I'd never seen it before tonight, and I don't know when I've laughed so much. I can't believe it took me so long to catch up with this four-star classic.

The movie's title is one of several allusions to the Cinderella story which run throughout the film. Eve Peabody (Claudette Colbert) gets off a train in rainy Paris dressed to kill -- the stunning wardrobe is by Irene -- but flat broke. Tibor Czerny, a handsome cab driver (Don Ameche), takes pity on Eve and drives her around town so she can look for a job as a nightclub singer. Tibor and Eve are attracted to one another, but then Eve, like Cinderella, vanishes.

Eve crashes a high-society party and before she knows it is playing bridge with a smitten Jacques (Francis Lederer) and his married lover Helene (Mary Astor). Helene's husband Georges (John Barrymore) sees Eve as someone who can lure Jacques away from Helene, whom Georges still loves, and Eve suddenly finds herself with a Fairy Godfather.

The way these two plot threads merge together is simply wonderful. I was literally hanging on to every word of this witty, highly imaginative film, which is superbly acted and executed in every way with great style. The film has a remarkably high rating of 8.2 at IMDb.

Colbert and Ameche are in peak form here. This is as good as any work they ever did, and they were each in plenty of classics. I didn't care for Barrymore in 1937's TRUE CONFESSION, where I felt he overacted, but he was terrific in this, both funny and touching. I also particularly liked Astor, whom I tend to associate with dramatic parts but who was also in the wildly funny Colbert comedy THE PALM BEACH STORY. Astor could do it all.

The excellent supporting cast includes Hedda Hopper, Monty Woolley, and Rex O'Malley.

MIDNIGHT was directed with great style by Mitchell Leisen. There's one particular scene, about two-thirds of the way into the film, where party guests are doing the Conga; the movement of the actors in and out of the picture, the dialogue, and the camera work are all especially dazzling.

Other Leisen films reviewed here are HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE (1935), EASY LIVING (1937), REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940), and THE MATING SEASON (1951). Each of these films is well worth seeing.

The film was shot in shimmering black and white and runs 94 minutes.

MIDNIGHT is available on a newly released DVD as well as on video. It's a shame the DVD was released without extras; if it had a commentary track I'd purchase it. I watched a VHS copy tonight and it was an excellent print, which is seconded by this review at Clydefro. The film can also be seen on TCM.

Most highly recommended for a great viewing experience.

2012 Update: I had the opportunity to see this film in 35mm at UCLA's series celebrating director Mitchell Leisen.

2016 Update: I had the wonderful experience of watching this with a packed audience at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival, introduced by Bonnie Hunt.


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